A Honey of a Home

Honey

Honey adds sweetness and sparkle to many dishes. Recipes for Chocolate Honey Cake, Honey Vinaigrette and more are below. Mike Petrucelli hide caption

itoggle caption Mike Petrucelli

In our Indiana subdivision, each home is like the next: Taupe, vinyl-sided boxes, their half-acre lots varying only by whether you bought your bushes at Menards or Lowe's.

Our yard is different.

About the Author

Mike Petrucelli is an editor for The South Bend Tribune. He lives with his wife, two children and 60,000 bees in Plymouth, Ind.

My wife and I like to think our flowers bloom brighter, our vegetables are more prolific, our herbs grow bushier and more fragrant thanks to the roughly 60,000 honeybees living out back.

Their house, too, is unlike all the others. It's a stack of large, white boxes made from old boards — like those you'd find in grandpa's shed. Inside are layers of frames that one-by-one the bees fill with honeycomb and honey.

This year, Amanda will harvest 135 pounds from the hive — all from an original investment of $200 three years ago. The perfect hobby, I'd say, since it's paid for itself many times over. And this year, no stings.

I suppose if my wife were the type to bake brownies and wrap pretty presents for the kids' teachers, we wouldn't need 100 surplus pounds of honey. But if you're not that type, there is nothing as easy as drawing off a pound of golden honey for a quick and original thank-you, a hostess gift, a get-well gesture. No wrapping paper necessary and even the bear-shaped bottle is optional.

Our hive also makes us feel more connected to the earth. We're sure we can taste our poppies in the honey from frame five. A few frames up is July's clover. And that's got to be the goldenrod in the frames that came off the hive this month.

Even without tasting the honey, you can tell the season, even predict the weather, just by looking out the window and watching the bees.

In spring the bees don't travel far. Dandelions are about all that's up and since we don't use weed and feed, our yard is full of them — so full that one neighbor joked that we planted dandelion seed this year instead of grass. But the bees need the flowers; and the neighbors get free honey.

In July, when it's humid and sunny and the nectar is flowing, bees happily fly in and out and around the entrance of the hive, humming softly and ignoring us because they have more important things to do.

When they clump up around the base of the hive in the middle of the day, a storm is coming. No action: It's almost winter and the bees are wrapped in a protective ball around their queen deep in the hive.

Now, as fall approaches, I can't help but be a little troubled. At this point in the season, the workers — all female — tire of the male drones whom they have fed and cleaned and cared for all summer. The women drag the larger, stingerless men outside to die of exposure, among other things.

This makes me want to be as useful to my wife as possible. I fill the little plastic bears and find as many ways to cook with honey as possible.

It goes into marinades and glazes and dipping sauces for those last few good grilling days before the hard Hoosier winter sets in. And it replaces the oil in the vinaigrette made with the last few fresh herbs from the garden — oregano, mint and sage.

The honey goes into black tea with lemon for sore throats and into mint tea with cream for sore tummies. It's drizzled over fresh-baked biscuits and replaces sugar in our bread.

And it's getting poured into the 3-gallon soup pot I use to brew beer. If all goes well, the honey — with all its wonderful sugars and flavor and chemical properties that I do not even pretend to understand — makes another nectar that warms me on cold January nights.

We always find something to do with it. And if we run out before we've tried everything, it's OK. The bees will be making more.

RECIPES

Nigella Lawson's Honey Chocolate Cake

Honey cake has a bad name, too often dry and cloying. Leave it to Lawson to come up with a honey cake that's moist and delicious, gorgeous and decadent. It's easy to make and works just fine with store-bought honey. The recipe is adapted from her latest book, Feast: Foods to Celebrate Life.

Ingredients for the Cake:

4 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces

1 1/3 cups light brown sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup honey, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 cup boiling water

Ingredients for the Sticky Honey Glaze

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup honey

6 ounces semi sweet chocolate

3/4 cup confectioners sugar

To make the cake:

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over boiling water. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with wax paper. Sift flour, soda and cocoa together.

Beat together the sugar and butter, until airy and creamy. Add the honey. Add eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour with each.

Fold in the melted chocolate, followed by the dry ingredients.

Then add the boiling water, mixing well to make a smooth batter.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for one hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. If the cake is still loose after 45 minutes, yet the top is appears quite cooked, gently lay a piece of foil atop the cake.

Cool cake completely in the pan on a rack. Remove the sides. Invert it onto a cake plate. (If the top stays just perfectly rounded, yes, flip it back over. If it sinks a bit, inverting the cake will mask the problem.) Slide strips wax paper under the edges to keep the plate free of glaze.

To make the glaze:

Bring honey and water to a boil. Turn off heat and add the chocolate. Let it rest while the chocolate melts, then whisk gently. Sift the sugar into the pan (to avoid lumps) and whisk until smooth.

Make the glaze in plenty of time to let it cool. If you put it on a warm cake or if it is still warm, the glaze will run right off. When the cake is cool and the glaze is room temperature, the honey glaze turns your cake into a shiny, irresistible confection. Slide the paper out from around the edges and serve.

The Full Nigella

For the ultimate honey garnish, shape yellow marzipan into chubby bee bodies. Lawson then uses a toothpick and a bit of glaze to make stripes and slivered almonds for their wings. They're totally charming, and yes, over the top.

Honey Butter

This makes a pretty decent amount, but you can make more or less just by combining equal parts of honey and butter. It's delicious on just about anything you like with butter or jam.

2 sticks softened butter, salted or unsalted

1 cup honey

Combine butter and honey in a medium bowl. "Whip the heck out of it," as Amanda says, with a hand mixer until mixed and fluffy.

Honey Vinaigrette

Adapted from Fat-Free Honey Herb Dressing from the National Honey Board

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, use whatever's growing in your yard or is fresh at the market

1 scallion, chopped fine

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl, adjust seasonings to taste.

Broiled Fish with Honey and Olive Oil

This super simple recipe is adapted from The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast by Jeff Smith.

4 6-8 ounce fish fillets*

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper fish fillets. Rub each fillet with honey. Rub each fillet with olive oil. Broil fillets until cooked, turning once halfway through cooking, 6-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

* Smith's recipe calls for halibut, but any firm fish that stands up to broiling — salmon, whitefish, etc. — work just fine.

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